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US Police: Biker Gangs Threaten Public Safety


Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, May 17, 2015.

Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, May 17, 2015.

Texas police are guarding against violence after a clash between competing motorcycle gangs. Nine people were killed in the fighting last Sunday in the city of Waco, Texas. Waco police say they seized more than 100 guns and arrested about 170 people. It was one of the worst gunfights in recent United States history.

The gunfight has led police and others to look closely at motorcycle gangs – bikers who travel together on their motorcycles. Law enforcement officials say such groups are a great threat to public safety.

Police say the gunfight in Waco was a clash between a large Texas-based gang, called the Bandidos, and smaller gangs, including one called the Cossacks.

Sergeant Patrick Swanton is a member of the Waco Police Department.

“I will tell you that in 34 years of law enforcement, this is the worst crime scene, the most violent crime scene, that I have ever been involved in.”

Sergeant Swanton says police knew the gangs were gathering in Waco and followed them closely as they travelled to the city. Some police officers were sent to a Waco restaurant. Sergeant Swanton says they were prepared to take action if the two sides fought.

“We were extremely fortunate to have our best, most well-trained officers here, and that was our tactical unit. They were here for the specific reason, of we knew there was going to be trouble at this biker event.”

Sergeant Swanton says the gang members fired at each other, and some also fired at the police. But only gang members were wounded or killed.

Federal and state officials say the Bandidos gang has about 2,000 members. They say it is involved in the transport of illegal drugs and other kinds of organized crime. The Bandidos was formed in south Texas in the 1960s. It now has allied chapters, or smaller groups, in other states and in several countries.

James Quinn teaches sociology at the University of North Texas. He has studied biker gangs. He says one chapter can operate differently from another. He notes that some gangs have what he calls a sophisticated membership that is active in organized crime. Other chapters appeal to those interested in riding, drinking or making friends.

Professor Quinn says men join motorcycle gangs for different reasons. In his words, “A lot of them are looking for excitement and camaraderie, and you have got other people that are looking for opportunities to launch organized crime.” He and other experts on gangs say members are required to defend any member who is threatened by an outsider.

The Hell’s Angels biker group is based in California. It competes with the Bandidos for members. Hell’s Angels is much larger than the Bandidos. Yet both groups have chapters throughout the country and the world. The two groups have clashed in Australia, Western Europe and Canada.

Canadian reporter Julian Sher has written two books about the gangs.

“More than 160 people were killed, most of them biker gang members, but some civilians, when the Bandidos and the Hell’s Angels fought it out on the streets of the province of Quebec. The Bandidos and the Hell’s Angels fought it out in Europe for control of the drug trade there. So the Bandidos have a long history of violence.”

Mr. Sher says the level of violence may decrease for a time after the gunfight in Waco. But he says the two sides will fight again someday because biker gangs always fight.

“The image of the biker gangs really never changes. This is what they are about. This is their very nature and it was just pure luck that there were no innocent people killed in that shoot-out, but there have been cases where innocent people have been killed.”

Most of those arrested in Waco belong to the Bandidos group. City officials are worried that other Bandidos members could travel to Waco and fight with members of competing groups who are still there. State police and federal officials are in Waco to help local police investigate the gunfight and to prevent more violence.

I’m Jim Tedder.

VOA Correspondent Greg Flakus reported this story from Houston, Texas. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

fortunate – adj. having good luck

tactical unit – n. a part of a police department or military force whose members are trained to deal with specific acts or incidents

specific – adj. relating to an actual person or situation

chapter – n. the people in one area who make up part of a larger organization; part of a book

sophisticated – adj. highly developed or complex

camaraderie – n. a feeling of friendship among people

nature – n. the way that a person or animal behaves; the character or personality of a person or animal

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